Strength Sensei 101
Strength Curves: Part 2
More insights into the pioneering training methods of Charles R. Poliquin
Understanding the relationship between strength curves and resistance curves is critical to developing maximum power and ultimate muscular development.
To review, a strength curve reflects how much strength an individual can display at specific points of a movement, and a resistance curve reflects how much resistance is presented at specific points of a movement.
Chains, bands, and variable-resistance pulley systems have been used to alter the resistance curves of popular exercises. One method the Strength Sensei has written extensively about is changing body position.
For example, there is little resistance at the beginning of a standing barbell curl. However, resting the upper arms on a Scott curl bench increases the resistance at the start. During a barbell back extension, the most resistance occurs when the back is parallel to the floor. However, performing the exercise on an incline increases the resistance at the start. The Strength Sensei was especially fond of this exercise and would increase the range of motion by having the athlete perform it with a wider grip.
In Part 1, the three strength curves were presented: Ascending, Descending, and Ascending-Descending. To completely overload all points of the strength curve of the biceps, you could design a six-week training cycle in which you would perform Scott curls (more resistance at the start) for two weeks, followed by standing barbell curls (more resistance at the mid-range) for two weeks, followed by cable curls with the arms horizontal (more resistance at the finish) for two weeks. And for a monster pump, you could perform a tri-set containing all three exercises.
One reference the Strength Sensei frequently mentioned about modifying body position to change the resistance curve of an exercise is Jerry Telle’s Beyond 2001. Although difficult to find, this book showed how to alter body position during an exercise to overload all points of a muscle’s strength curve. While you comb the used book websites to find Telle’s classic, you can find several videos on YouTube of trainers demonstrating several of his exercises.
Another option is force reps, where a training partner helps you complete a rep by pulling on the resistance. Forced reps can be safely used with many exercise machines as the machine provides stability, but with free weights, the “spotter” needs to be skilled so as not to affect the path of the bar or dumbbell(s).
Force reps, where a training partner assists with helping you complete a rep, is one way to overload all points of a muscle’s strength curve. (Miloš Šarčev photo)
In the late 80s, the Strength Sensei described one method of precisely overloading all points of an individual’s strength curve during the bench press is to have a training partner apply manual resistance during the eccentric portion of the lift. Let’s say eight reps are prescribed. After you perform four repetitions (as a warm-up), during the next four reps, a spotter will press down on the bar as your lower it to your chest, pressing harder as more resistance is encountered. You can lower more weight than you can lift, so the resistance must be increased to provide optimal overload.
This article presented several ways to alter resistance curves to optimally overload the muscles. Part 3 of this series will take a deep dive into how the Strength Sensei used bands and chains to alter the resistance curves of several popular exercises to take your training to the next level. (TSS)